Château Mercian & Miyakoen

Please read this 2019 Food & Wine article featuring Yamanashi’s wineries.

Please read this 2019 Fortune article featuring Yamanashi’s wineries.

Miyakoen: Built in 1896 and modified in 1928

As I passed through the gate and entered the elegant Japanese garden at Miyakoen, I was struck by the excellent condition of the building itself. The main building at Miyakoen was built in 1896, while the second floor was added in 1928. However, there is a Kura (storage building) at the back of the property which dates back to late Edo (1603-1868). Take a close look inside the storage building to see various pieces of equipment from the winery’s past.

Edo-era storage building
A view into the storage building

The facility was developed by Kotaro Miyazaki (1863-1947). After Japan’s first winery (Dai-Nihon Yamanashi Winery) dissolved in 1886, Kotaro Miyazaki inherited the company’s winemaking equipment and began operations with Ryuken Tsuchiya (1858-1940). Tsuchiya, along with Masanari Takano (1852-1923), had studied grape cultivation and winemaking in Troyes, the Champagne region of Northern France, in the late 1870s.

Map of the journey
The 46-day journey that took Ryuken Tsuchiya and Masanari Takano to France

Ryuken Tsuchiya and Masanari Takano left Japan on October 10th, 1877, and arrived in Paris via Hong Kong, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Aden, Suez, Port Said, Naples, and Marseille on November 25th of the same year. I can hardly believe that two winemaking novices, speaking not a word of French between them, would embark on such a journey just 9 years after Japan opened to the outside world. It must have been quite an adventure for the two young men from Katsunuma. I only wish that I could have been there to document such a story. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts to learn the art of winemaking, Japan’s first winery, the winery they helped establish, survived less than 10 years.

Ryuken Tsuchiya & Masanari Takano
Ryuken Tsuchiya (left), and Masanari Takano (right)

Over the past 140 years, the winery has had at least 5 different names, with the latest being Château Mercian, a subsidiary of Kirin Holdings Company, Ltd.

Daikoku Winery
Daikoku Budoshu (Daikoku Winery)

This is a wine container with one of the previous names of the winery, Daikoku Budoshu (Daikoku Winery), established in 1888. The container can be seen in the museum on the second floor of Miyakoen. Daikokuten, the god of wealth and commerce, was adopted as the winery’s trademark by Kotaro Miyazaki.

Here is Daikokuten, one of Japan’s seven lucky gods, standing at the entrance to Miyakoen.
Massive oak barrels
Be sure to enter the cellar of the original winery building to see the collection of massive oak barrels.

Once you have finished visiting Miyakoen, walk across the street to enter Château Mercian’s tasting room and museum. Although both facilities are deeply connected to Japan’s oldest winery, Miyakoen is operated by the local government while Château Mercian is privately run by Kirin Holdings Company Ltd.

Koshu Grapes
In season, you can find Koshu grapes growing on the trellis above the outdoor dining area of Château Mercian.
The southern view from Château Mercian
The view from the indoor wine-tasting area at Château Mercian
Enormous oak barrels
You can also find an assortment of enormous oak barrels at the Château Mercian museum.

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Here are a few pictures of the antique equipment on display at the Château Mercian museum.

If you are planning a day trip to enjoy Japan’s premier winemaking region, then consider starting your day at Miyakoen and Château Mercian. The entrance fee for Miyakoen is ¥200 for adults (¥100 for students and children). Miyakoen is open from 9:00 to 16:30, but is closed on Tuesdays and from December 28th to January 4th. Winery tours and tasting can be booked at Château Mercian on any day but Mondays. Tuesdays and year-end holidays are off, but during the winemaking season in September and October, the winery is also open on Tuesdays. The standard 60-minute tour with limited tasting, can be booked at either 10:30 or 13:00 (10 people maximum/ ¥1,000 per person).  A more extensive 90-minute tour of the factory with in-depth tasting can be booked at 13:00 and 14:00 (6 people maximum/ ¥3,000 per person). Please refer to the company website below to make a reservation. Unfortunately, you will have to use Google Translate to navigate the reservation system. It still might be possible to join tours without a reservation, but it would be best to reserve beforehand. Click the link below and then choose “Visit Winery” from the top menu.

Château Mercian & Miyakoen Map

 Visit my detailed blog post describing local transport and accommodations.

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